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GOP Leaders Back Bush on Wiretapping, Tribunals
McCain expressed bewilderment at an administration stand that he said would tamper with interpretations of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war. That stand is firmly opposed by top military lawyers. "The overwhelming majority of retired military people are weighing in on this issue and saying, 'Don't amend Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions] because then you are allowing other nations' " to conclude that they, too, can change the conventions, McCain said.
McCain and his allies were unable to persuade White House negotiators to agree that an alleged enemy combatant could not be convicted on the basis of classified information that is not shared in some form with the defendant. "We're still gridlocked on that," McCain said. "They want to turn 200 years of criminal procedure on its head."
In the House, the Judiciary Committee was forced to scrap a planned drafting of a warrantless surveillance bill, in part because nearly half a dozen Republican conservatives were in open rebellion against GOP leaders' efforts to weaken controls on the eavesdropping program.
"There are enough Republicans with concerns," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who was pushing bipartisan legislation that would all but scuttle the warrantless surveillance program. "Once you basically give the president this authority, it's very difficult to pull it back. That's very shortsighted just to point out the differences between Republicans and Democrats."
Such internal dissension did not sit well with an orchestrated push to elevate the profile of the national security debate ahead of the Nov. 7 midterm elections. GOP leaders seized on week-old comments by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that suggested that the capture of Osama bin Laden would not "make us safer." Republicans launched a blizzard of e-mailed statements condemning the comments, culminating in a news conference yesterday.
Democrats noted that Pelosi's comments mirrored sentiments expressed by Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and even Vice President Cheney last weekend, when he told Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press": "He's not the only source of the problem, obviously, Tim. If you killed him tomorrow, you'd still have a problem with al-Qaeda."
The second GOP track is to label military commissions "terrorist tribunals" and attack Democrats for opposing them. House Republican leadership aides acknowledged that the biggest roadblock to the president's military commissions is coming from Senate Republicans.
Democrats used the GOP's allegiance to the Bush security agenda to redouble efforts to tie vulnerable Republicans to the president.
"The role of Congress is to bring to bear its own independent judgment, to represent the American people and to forge policy, not to simply be a complacent rubber stamp for the president of the United States," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
Staff writers Charles Babington and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.